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Blocks of Russell Neighborhood Get Free Wi-Fi Access

Liam Dunn/Creative Commons

Bill Jones claims he retired five years ago, but he still hangs around the muffler shop he owns at 30th and West Market streets. On Tuesday, Jones wore a Dad's Muffler Shop T-shirt — Dad's is his shop — drinking coffee and inspecting the work of the mechanics.

He opened Dad's in the early 1970s. In the past 40 years, he's seen the neighborhood go through tough times and not-so-tough times. He's seen houses built and crumble, workers come and go.

The biggest difference today compared to then is that there are fewer kids hanging around the neighborhood, he said.

So when representatives from the city approached Jones about installing a public Wi-Fi hot spot on his property, the kids were the first thing that came to his mind.

"They need it," he said.

And now, they've got it — at least for the next 12 months.

Using funds from a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant, the city's IT department has hooked up three Wi-Fi hotspots on the West Market Street Corridor near 29th Street, the site of the future West Louisville FoodPort.

The hotspots will provide free Internet access to anyone within a 200-foot radius.

One of the hotspots is across the street from Dad's Muffler Shop, another is atop America's Finest Filters on 2910 W. Jefferson St., and the third will be placed at the Kentucky Recovery Resource Center at 2501 W. Market St.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the initiative is about providing access to a necessary tool.

"Access to reliable Internet service is critical for businesses, families, our workforce and our students," he said.

But the free access may be for a limited time, said Ted Smith, the city's chief of civic innovation.

Once the 12 months of funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies runs out, city officials will seek out other means to pay for the Wi-Fi accessibility, Smith said.

"It is my hope that a nonprofit will be interested in operating this network going forward," he said, adding it would cost about $10,000 a year to operate the network.

The city began offering Wi-Fi access at the Shawnee Community Center, but it is no longer accessible. Metro Council members are working out a way to fund the program moving forward, Smith said.

The new hotspots are the first offered by the city outside of government property.

Smith said the new hotspots are about more than getting people Internet access.

"Taking steps like this show the rest of the world that we are very interested in working with technology," he said.

Smith said he's hopeful the free Internet access will help convince businesses to move into an area with about 100 vacant properties.

Sitting in a small office of the muffler shop, Jones said free Internet likely won't be the spark that reignites the neighborhood. But if it helps kids get good grades and stay in school, and gives people access to resources they need to succeed, it's a good enough start.

And if a few businesses decide to set up shop, that won't hurt, either.

"I think it's a good idea — one of the few good ideas out there," he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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